How I created the 80s era in 'Bheeshma Parvam': Interview with Joseph Nellickal

Art director Joseph Nellickal recreated the set of 'Bheeshma Parvam'

Cinema is an experience. It persuades us to savour, ponder, and often aid in revisiting a time period that fills us with nostalgia. ‘Bheeshma Parvam’ is one such film. The film set in the Kochi of the 80s was a fine blend of action, drama, and romance. If the production design was faultless the credit should go to art director Joseph Nellickal who recreated the 80s Kochi in the film. He talks to Manoramonline about the film.

Back with the Big B team

I was there in Amal’s first film, ‘Big B’. My inclusion into ‘Bheeshma Parvam’ was rather sudden. So I didn’t really get enough time to research before the film started. For ‘Venicile Vyapari’ I had recreated the 80s era at Alappuzha. Not just that before ‘Bheeshma Parvam’ I had completed ‘Jailer’, a film set in the 1950s. Therefore I had a definite idea of what exactly was required for this film. That’s why I agreed to do the film.

Autorickshaw meter

The autorickshaw shown during the beginning of the film itself is very unique. Its meter belongs to that era but you can’t see that in the film. The interior of the vehicle is plastered with old magazine cuttings and film posters. From the first scene itself, we should be able to transport the audience into that era.

The poster of ‘Aadya Paapam’ was the first prop to showcase that era. Youngsters will be able to relate to it. Also, the daughter is carrying a plastic cover belonging to a famous textile shop called Vettukatil textiles which existed back then. The umbrella and cloth carried by Pauly Wilson are also from that period. So we have tried to underline that era through the posters and other props used by the characters.

The house of Michael

Most of the props seen at Michael’s house have been rented from areas in and around Mattanchery. You can find several shops that sell antique pieces there. It is not necessary that everything we find there should belong to the 80s era too. A lot depends on how old the house is. Sometimes you can even find 50s souvenirs here.

The items spread on Michael’s table were all picked from the antique shop. But the clothes and accessories used by Shine Tom Chacko belong to the 80s time. Be it silk clothes, tape recorder, or posters. Amal had briefed us about the kind of posters we should use. The posters are printed in newsprint to avoid gloss. The pictures that symbolized Christianity were all planted by us.

That house only had the sofa set and dining table and chairs that were shown in the film. The rest are all rented from Mattanchery. That house was actually empty, and it has been used in several films before. In fact, I have worked in 5 or 6 films which have been shot there. ‘Punjabi House’ was the first film shot in that house. Other films include ‘Pothan Vava,’ ‘Fukri,’ and ‘Irupathiyonnam Nootandu.’ But changes will be made according to the requirement of each film. The porch in ‘Bheeshma Parvam,’ for instance was created.

We shot the film in two schedules. During the shoot lot of people were down with Corona and we had to take a break in between. The challenge before me was to invoke nostalgia for an 80s generation as well as appeal to today’s generation. We worked hard to avoid blunders in the production design. No one should call out a factual error in the production design.

Because of the pandemic, shops were closed. And it was difficult to accumulate antique stuff. We finally collected bottles and plates from neighbouring homes.

Soubin Shahir’s Varkey supermarket

If you look at Soubin’s supermarket, you will notice the detailing we gave there. The advertisements, typewriter, grocery covers, and packets, all had such detailing. Even some of the product prices are for Rs 3.50 or so. It’s the value rate of that era. Probably a grocery shop owner will notice such details, as the pricing, the products, packing, etc. Since the characters are people you can relate to in real life, it was important that we kept the realism in production design.

Varkey supermarket is a nostalgic memory for the 80s and 90s generations. But today's generation might not be familiar with it. For a 10th grader, anything before a decade will be considered an era/period. Even the number plates on the cars denote that period.

For me, the biggest high about ‘Bheeshma Parvam’ was the reunion of Mammootty and Amal Neerad after ‘Big B’, which came 15 years ago. Then there was the challenge of putting up a set within a short time. I think I managed to live up to Amal’s expectations.

A period subject typically requires a lot of preparation. Cinema anyway is make-believe. We know the punches and gunshots are fake, but I believe the audience watches films to understand how successfully we are able to deceive them. But there should be a method in this madness. If you don’t do that correctly, it can falter.

We are transforming the Kochi of 2020 into the Kochi of the 80s. It is about smartly pulling wool into the audience's eyes by making them believe that they just got transported into the 80s era. The location was mostly in and around Ernakulam, including Mattanchery, Fort Kochi, Alappuzha, Cherthala, Ezhupunna.

Visual sound posters

This time we have attempted something new. Perhaps something like this has been done for the first time in the world. I designed a virtual moving poster and added audio and lyrics. I am so glad I could set new standards in motion poster designing with this film.

Puliyoor and Mullankolli

A scene is often created with the help of a production designer. A talented art director should be able to take the scene several notches higher on-screen than what was there on paper.

Let me give you an example. Puliyoor in ‘Pulimurugan’ is a fictional village. But we are able to convince the audience that such a village exists. Since it is a village where tigers invade, the villagers try not to use colours that attract wild animals. They mostly wear dark colours. Also, the villagers will be carrying weapons for protection. So we provided them with sticks and sickles. Though we aren’t specially mentioning these details, just the fact that the audience is convinced about the existence of a village called Puliyoor shows we got it right. Everything is designed according to what the story demands.

'Naran’s' Mullankolli village was constructed at Pollachi. Kadathu Kadavu mentioned in that film is part of a dam. We had placed a bamboo stick in the film to get the idea of the village name firmly inscribed on people's minds. These are all small tricks to bring the audience to the milieu. It is our job to transport the audience convincingly into a film’s narrative and milieu.

Upcoming films

‘Pakalum pathirayum,’ ‘Jailer,’ Kappu,’ Jayasurya’s 3D film ‘Kathanar,’ and ‘Panthrandu.’ 

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